Wildland Arson or Accidental Fire in California

Today’s burning question: I’m a wildland firefighter and I accidentally started a fire when the cigarette I was smoking burned me and I tossed it. Can I be charged with arson?

Firefighter Daniel Mariano Madrigal goes on trial today in Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga, California on arson charges related to a July 25, 2010 blaze (I am not making up the Cucamonga part either). He is a US Forest Service firefighter.

According to his lawyer, Madrigal drove out to a remote area to make a cellphone call, when his cigarette burned him. He tossed it away, but immediately began searching for it. Shortly thereafter he discovered the fire and returned to his station. He and his captain then responded to extinguish the fire which was contained to a small area.

Can he be charged? Obviously. Can he be convicted? That will depend on whether the jury believes his story. Madrigal is charged with “willfully, unlawfully and maliciously” causing the wildland fire. Some states have a lesser charge of negligently causing a wildland fire. The state would have an easier case if he was charged with negligently causing the fire… but in either event it will come down to believability.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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